HANOI, Vietnam — Ivica Osim and captain Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi put on a united front Sunday after questions were raised over a poor attitude permeating the Japan squad ahead of its first Asian Cup finals game.
Japan coach Osim has continually bemoaned the lack of preparation time available to him and his players, but rubbished suggestions from sections of the Japanese media that a shared lack of desire among the players will further hamper Japan’s chances of a third straight Asian title.
“Maybe if you were in my place as a head coach you would improve the atmosphere of the team,” Osim said. “But I have talked with the players and I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t want to be a champion.”
Goalkeeper Kawaguchi backed up his boss ahead of Monday’s Group B opener against Qatar in Hanoi.
“We haven’t had as much time to prepare as we would like, but once the tournament starts it will be a different story,” Kawaguchi said.
“We are under no pressure and I think we are capable of playing well and scoring goals against anyone.”
Osim also dismissed speculation he would fall on his sword if Japan fails to make the semifinals of the continental tournament for the first time since 1988 in Qatar.
Japan’s most recent defeat in the finals was a 2-0 reverse against Kuwait in its last-four match of the 1996 United Arab Emirates tournament.
Japan won the tournament in Lebanon in 2000 and China in 2004.
“We have a president of the Japan Football Association and (a) team manager and they will decide on my fate,” the Bosnian coach said.
“What journalists may be saying is that in order for me to keep my job, maybe the only way would be for me to win the Asian Cup. To that, I don’t say anything — you will think I will do that.
“But I am not relying on us winning the tournament. I am ready for Japan to lose. But it is you journalists who are making pressure for us.”
Japan also plays United Arab Emirates and cohost Vietnam in their group.
Qatar coach Dzemaludin Musovic, Osim’s assistant when the Bosnian coach led Yugoslavia to the 1990 World Cup quarterfinals, said victory against Japan at My Dinh Stadium will be a huge confidence booster for his team, but admitted the Asian Games gold medalist is more likely to get points against the other teams in the group.
“If we win, no one will really expect it. But if we did that, it will really help us be very motivated for the rest of the tournament,” Musovic said. “All the newspapers think Japan is the favorite, so we are in an excellent position because we have nothing to lose.
“If we lose, we haven’t really lost anything because we still have two games to play. Every match is very important . . . especially the second game against Vietnam.”
BANGKOK (AP) Cohost Thailand kicked off the Asian Cup with an encouraging 1-1 draw against Iraq on Saturday after a monsoonal deluge delayed the opening ceremonies in Bangkok.
Thailand went ahead via Sutte Suksomkit’s sixth-minute penalty after Ali Rehema nudged veteran Kiatisak Senamuang, known by Thai fans as Zico, to the ground inside the area.
It appeared to be a borderline call by referee Kwon Jong-chul, but Thai coach Chanvit Polchovin commended the decision.
“Football is football, it’s not rugby attacking like that — the referee has to make the decision,” he said.
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